The Traton Group of truck makers, including MAN, Scania and International are testing possible hydrogen technology, PowerTorque asked global MAN CEO, Alexander Vlaskamp how that is likely to play out.
“Beginning next year, we will bring out the first test vehicles when it comes to fuel cell electric, as well as an ICE (internal combustion engine) using hydrogen,” said Alexander. “Here there s the same question mark. Where’s the infrastructure for hydrogen? And also what is the price level for green hydrogen? It doesn’t make sense to actually burn hydrogen which is taken out of gas refraction, we are still harming the environment.
“For our customers, they have to make an investment calculation. They need to know what the product looks like and what is the kilogram price for hydrogen. Right now, we see this as far too expensive. So it doesn’t actually live up to the TCO parameters. Nevertheless, we are developing it, so that if the market turns in that direction, which might be the case for 10 to15 per cent of applications, we will have that available as well.”
Talking about the differences between a fuel cell and ICE hydrogen engines, Alexander sees the complex variables making it difficult to work out which technology will work in which situation.
“We are working with a whole spider’s web of parameters,” said Alexander. “Let’s just look at Australia, if you have a fuel cell in a truck operating in Australia, and especially if you go into the Northern Territory, where you have high temperatures, a high dust environment, etc. That is a very heavy load for a fuel cell. Why? Because you need super clean air to go into the fuel cell. I don’t know how we fix that, when it comes to filtration.
“This is one of the paradoxes to be solved, to make sure that the fuel cell has the durability. You can solve that easier, with hydrogen combustion, but their efficiency is somewhat lower. It’s a difference of seven to nine per cent. On the other hand, the ICE hydrogen is something we have running in our test vehicles now. It is known technology. It is less complex than a fuel cell electric vehicle. It might also be more robust and balanced when it comes to cost and robustness.”
The Traton Group, and MAN in particular, is expecting demand to scale up for trucks powered using hydrogen, in the early 2030s. The company is double checking this estimate by talking to big companies like ABB or Siemens, which are going to be producing the electrolysers, which are necessary for producing the high levels of hydrogen, which will be needed.
“When we talk to ABB or Siemens, they think in the same terms as us, and so from that perspective, it will not just be when it can be made available, but the problem is that it might not be affordable,” said Alexander. “I think it is always important, those parameters, to check availability of technology. We know that electric will be available, for sure. Hydrogen is still a big question mark, because the affordability and the infrastructure is a big question mark.
“Then we need to think about scalability, we are preparing now to scale up battery electric vehicles. We also can also scale up quickly with hydrogen ICE vehicles, but when it comes to robustness and and stability of the fuel cell electric vehicles, that has more work to be done and that will be at the earliest in the next decade.
“When it comes to the system complexity. as a fleet owner, you also don’t want to have various systems in your fleet, right? Because you need to have various trained and skilled mechanics for all the different power sources, either diesel or electric or hydrogen. That’s also what we have to take care about. So, it’s not really about the product, it’s very much about the infrastructure and, of course, the TCO calculation. What will be the costs for diesel versus battery electric or kilowatt hours? Plus, it’s also which is most suitable to integrate into the fleet, and that’s not even talking about the different applications and and the vast distances, here in Australia.”